Names of Plants and Animals

The entries that define the common or vernacular names (as peach and lion) of plants and animals or sometimes a related term (as streptomycin ), if a common name is rare or does not exist, employ in part the formal, codified, New Latin vocabulary of biological systematics. This vocabulary has been developed and used by biologists in accordance with international codes of botanical and zoological nomenclature for the purpose of identifying and indicating the relationships of plants and animals.

This system of names classifies organisms into a hierarchy of groups -- taxa -- with each kind of organism having one -- and only one -- correct name and belonging to one -- and only one -- taxon at each level of classification in the hierarchy. This contrasts with the system of common or vernacular names which is determined by popular usage and in which one organism may have several names (as mountain lion, cougar, and painter), different organisms may have the same name (as dolphin), and there may be variation in meaning or overlapping of the categories denoted by the names (as whale, dolphin, and porpoise).

The fundamental taxon is the genus. It includes a group of closely related kinds of plants (as Prunus, which includes the wild and cultivated cherries, apricots, peaches, and almonds) or animals (as Canis, which includes domestic dogs, coyotes, jackals, and wolves). The genus name is a capitalized singular noun.

The unique name of each kind of organism or species -- the binomial or species name -- consists of a singular capitalized genus name combined with an uncapitalized specific epithet. The name for a variety or subspecies -- the trinomial, variety name, or subspecies name -- adds a similar varietal or subspecific epithet. The cultivated cabbage (Brassica oleracea capitata), the cauliflower (Brassica oleracea botrytis ), and brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea gemmifera) belong to the same species (Brassica oleracea) of cole.

Names of taxa higher than the genus (as family, order, and class) are capitalized plural nouns that are often used with singular verbs and that are not abbreviated in normal use. No two genera of animals in good standing are permitted to have the same name, nor are any two genera of plants in good standing. Since the botanical and zoological codes are independent, however, a plant genus and an animal genus may have the same name. Thus, a number of cabbage butterflies (as Pieris rapae) are placed in a genus of animals with the same name as the plant genus to which the Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica ) belongs. Although no two higher taxa of plants are permitted to have the same name, the rules of zoological nomenclature do not apply to taxa above the family so that rarely some widely separated groups may receive the same taxonomic name (as the ordinal name Decapoda in the entry decapod) from different specialists.

The taxonomic names of biological nomenclature used in this dictionary are enclosed in parentheses and usually come immediately after the primary orienting noun. Genus names as well as binomials and trinomials are italicized, but names of taxa above the genus are not italicized:

Main Entry: bee.tle
Function: noun
1 : any of an order (Coleoptera) of insects having four wings of which the outer pair are modified into stiff elytra that protect the inner pair when at rest

Main Entry:
Function: noun
1 a : a small chiefly European thrush (Erithacus rubecula) resembling a warbler and having a brownish olive back and orangish face and breast b : any of various Old World songbirds that are related to or resemble the European robin
2 : a large North American thrush (Turdus migratorius) with olivaceous to slate gray upperparts, blackish head and tail, black and whitish streaked throat, and dull reddish breast and underparts

Main Entry:
Function: noun
: an antibiotic organic base C21H39N7O12 produced by a soil actinomycete (Streptomyces griseus), active against many bacteria, and used especially in the treatment of infections (as tuberculosis) by gram-negative bacteria

Sometimes two or more different New Latin names can be found used in current literature for the same organism or group. This happens when older monographs and field guides are kept in print after name changes occur, when there are legitimate differences of opinion about the validity of names, and when the rules of priority do not apply or are not applied. To help the reader in recognizing an organism or group, some entries in this dictionary give two taxonomic names connected by "synonym":

Main Entry: li.on
Function: noun
1 a . . . : a large heavily-built social cat (Panthera leo synonym Leo leo) of open or rocky areas chiefly of sub-Saharan Africa . . .

Taxonomic names are used in this dictionary to provide precise technical identifications through which defined terms may be pursued in technical writings. Because of their specialized nature taxonomic names do not have separate entry. However, many common names are derived directly from the names of taxa and especially genera with little or no modification. It is particularly important to distinguish between a common name and the genus name from which it is derived without a change in spelling, as these names appear in print. The common name (as clostridium or drosophila) is not usually capitalized or italicized but does have a plural (as clostridia or drosophilas) which often has an ending different from that of the singular. In contrast the genus name (as Clostridium or Drosophila) is capitalized and italicized but never takes a plural. A common name in plural form (as coleoptera) may sometimes be spelled like the name of a taxon, but it is not usually capitalized.

The entries defining the names of plants and animals are usually oriented to higher taxa by other vernaculars (as by alga at seaweed or thrush at robin ) or by technical adjectives (as by composite at daisy, leguminous at pea, or oscine at warbler ) so that the name of a higher taxon may often be found by consulting an entry defining a more inclusive common name or a term related to it. Among the higher plants, except for the composites and legumes and a few tropical groups, such orientation is by a vernacular family name linked at the corresponding taxonomic entry to its technical equivalent:

Main Entry: rose
Function: noun
1 a : any of a genus (Rosa of the family Rosaceae, the rose family) of usually prickly shrubs with pinnate leaves and showy flowers . . .

Main Entry: ap.ple
Function: noun, often attributive
1 : the fleshy usually rounded and red, yellow, or green edible pome fruit of a tree (genus Malus) of the rose family; also : an apple tree

A genus name may be abbreviated to its initial letter when it is used more than once in senses not separated by a boldface number:

Main Entry: nas.tur.tium
Function: noun
: any of a genus (Tropaeolum of the family Tropaeolaceae, the nasturtium family) of herbs of Central and South America with showy spurred flowers and pungent seeds; especially : either of two widely cultivated ornamentals (T. majus and T. minus)


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